Lara's Life in Zambia

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Lara's Life in Zambia

Lara's Life in Zambia: Lara is a Peace Corps Volunteer on assignment in Zambia, Africa.

Brief History
Lara is a Peace Corps Volunteer on assignment in Zambia, Africa. She is serving from January 2000 through April 2002. Lara is currently near Chama, Eastern Province, Zambia.

Dec. 27th 2001

Latest News!

The countdown is on! Not to the start of 2002 but to our much-anticipated COS date. (That's "close of service" in non-acronymese.) This Zambia Peace Corps adventure officially ends for me on April 9, but I'll be saying goodbye to my Zambian friends and leaving the village sometime in mid- or late-March. After some final paperwork and medical checkups (still lookin' for strange parasites and such) in Lusaka, I'll go with a small group of volunteers to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Then we'll haul our tired bodies onto a ferry to the island of Zanzibar for some rest, relaxation and fresh seafood! From there, who knows, but I hope to be back to the States by summertime to embark on some sort of cross-country roadtrip before I settle back into the working world once again.

All of this evokes a sea of mixed feelings of course. I'm excited to move back to the land of smooth roads, reliable plumbing, constant electricity and overpriced Starbucks. But even the thought of saying goodbye to my village and the people I've become closest to there (mostly a bunch of 7-year-olds!) is just heartbreaking. They say coming home is the toughest part of Peace Corps and I'm beginning to understand why.

Anyway... Though I only have a few months left in my village, those days will still be better enjoyed if I receive an occasional letter from you. Please don't stop writing. BUT... because our mail is so notoriously slow, use my Chipata address instead. (Lara Weber, P.O. Box 510203, Chipata, ZAMBIA) Most mail from the U.S. gets to Chipata within two weeks, but in the event that it arrives after I'm gone there will still be volunteers around to forward the mail to wherever I am.
I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful holiday season. As many of you know, I snuck home for the holidays this year. It's been a whirlwind three weeks of good times with family and friends from Virginia to Chicago. I wish I'd had time to see/talk with everyone, but there's never enough time. (I've also been a little overwhelmed by the seemingly constant use of cell phones in American society these days ... does EVERYONE have one now???) Me, I've gotten used to the telecommunications-free twilight zone of Zambia so forgive me if I haven't called. Still, I think of you all constantly.

Happy New Year!
-Lara (aka: Rala, Roller, Lola, Flora, Nora...)

Oct. 7th 2001

LARA here,

Well, it looks like the retaliation has begun. We heard about it tonight, while a bunch of us were gathered to celebrate an Irish volunteer's 28th birthday here in Chipata. Sept. 11 had been the topic of conversation all evening, as Cindie and Dom had just arrived and were sharing stories of what they saw, heard, felt on that day and the days since. Most of the shock has subsided now, and more of a melancholy has set in about what is in store for the next few months, years, whatever. Patriotism is still strong -- one volunteer even sewed a US flag to his baseball hat (and yes, Dad, I have the one you gave me hanging in my house) -- but questions about what purpose bombing Afghanistan will serve also are starting to gain more volume. What's the point of dropping food aid if you're about to bomb them? Give them a good last meal? It seems a bit twisted from this vantage point, but maybe we just don't feel the emotional impact in a place like Zambia, so removed from the realness of it all. We only hear bits and pieces here ... top headlines on VOA and BBC. Our views are shaped more by the conversations we have with the people around us, the emails we receive from home and the few magazines we've managed to leaf through. Cindie and Dom brought a video of some NBC special report that was interesting to watch... it was the first time most of us had seen any video of the destruction and aftermath. But the over-production of the show reminded us all that we were probably better off not being bombarded with nonstop coverage. It's nice to be able to turn it off.

They say they'll continue bombing through the night. That means we'll be on our way to Chama tomorrow before we can catch up on any developments. Back to listening to the shortwave in the village, in a place that couldn't be farther removed from a place like New York City. At least this time Cindie and Dom will be there with me, and Sam will be just down the road. Unlike Sept. 11 when I had no one to talk to. We'll be back in Chipata on Thursday, then off to the game park on Friday for a few days. I just wanted to shoot off a quick email before we were out of touch. I hope this isn't the beginning of more back-and-forth attacks. Is there fear of retaliatory terrorism? If nothing else, I've learned in the last month how important "staying in touch" really is. Don't worry about me... I'm probably in one of the safest places in the world. We'll be dancing in my village, eating nshima and drinking tea wine with Irene and Agogo! But you... stay safe and stay in touch.

Love to all,

Jun. 9th 2001

New Pictures from Africa! 2 Full Rolls of 'Em!
June-20010042 June-20010028 June-20010033 Plus 47

Apr. 24th 2001

Happy Birthday Lara! We love you and miss you very much!

Mom, Dad and Maj

Apr. 19th 2001

Pictures from Zambia!
Homelife-PC Jus-Walkin Lara-MattOct00 Movindownthatroad

Mar. 30th 2001

Letter from Lara today!


I just got into Chipata today for our quarterly meeting which will be
tomorrow. How are you? Is spring weather thawing things out there? When do the cherry blossoms arrive? The rainy season is finally showing signs of slowing down here, though just when we think it might not rain again another torrential downpour arrives and all the rivers flood once again.

I had a great month up at site. It was good to get to spend some real time
in my village again. For the last few months I've felt like a drop-in volunteer, more a traveler than a resident. Being up in Chama again was a bit of an adjustment at first. After being away for so long, the slow rhythm of village life was a little tough to catch. My long absence also meant that my return came with a lot of the initial headaches I had when I was first posted a year ago. Kids hanging out at my house too much, people asking me for everything under the sun, etc. Overall, though, it was nice. After a couple of days, my neighbors were convinced I was really sticking around and they started leaving me in peace. I wrote a LOT of letters (hopefully they've started arriving!), read a lot of books, wrote plenty in my journal and visited with tons of villagers. Work was hectic while I was back, but we're doing good stuff. Projects are moving past the starting phase now so I'm starting to see some results of my efforts. Small results, mind you. Progress is slow. But even the littlest things make you feel like you're doing something worthwhile here.

The rains this year have been somewhat disastrous for Chama (and much of
Zambia). Too much water has ruined most of the crops and everyone is predicting they will "starve" in a few months. I don't think it will be that bad. I suspect that some of that language is held over from the socialist days when food/farm subsidies were a given. Despite nearly 10 years of market economy, too many people still don't plan ahead very well and just assume the government (and foreign donors) will bail them out when things go awry. Having said all that, it still is a bad year here. And the harvest is going to be pitifully small. And people won't have as much food as usual.

The rains also have made getting around even more of a nightmare than ever!
Bridges aren't built very solidly and it seems that all of the ones in Eastern Province have washed out at some point in the past few months!

Getting from Lundazi to Chipata now requires an hour-long detour around a
washed out bridge. In Chama, I can get to my village fairly easily. The "road" is more like one long 5-km trench, but at least I don't have to ford any rivers. Sam does. The first is a somewhat big (during the rains) seasonal river just on his way out of the boma. Matt came up to visit me in Chama last week with his bike and so we decided to ride out to see Sam in Kambombo. The first river required us to lift our bikes up over our shoulders and wade across a river about hip-deep and maybe 30 or 40 meters wide. Water was moving pretty fast and it felt like an adventure getting across! (Not nearly as bad as a few weeks earlier, though, when Sam crossed while the water was OVER HIS HEAD!) Then after about 10 km of muddy but fairly flat riding, we encountered a long series of swollen streams. We were able to shift down low and pedal fast fast fast through most of them, but there was one more that was also about hip-deep and for that one we had to lug our bikes across again. We were absolutely drenched when we got to Sam's! (well, OK, my falling over in the last river crossing didn't help matters!) It was way fun, though... you know, if you're going to get muddy at all you might as well just roll in the stuff right??

Lots of other good stuff that I'm sure I've already written you in letters so I won't elaborate on here. But... I am here in Chipata for a few days so give me a call if you can! Matt and I and a bunch of other volunteers are sleeping over at the Komocho Inn (the house is being overrun by new volunteers about to be posted!) so I won't be here late at night, but you should be able to catch me sometime. Today is Thursday. I'll be here until Saturday morning. Then I'll be gone one day and back again Sunday late afternoon through Tuesday early morning when I'm heading down to Lusaka. Call me anytime in Chipata and if I'm not here give someone a time when you'll call again and hopefully I'll get the message.

Everything is very good here. Hard to believe I've been at site a YEAR already!!! Time is flying.

Anyway, I hope I'll talk to you soon!

Love you!


Mar. 4th 2001

This was in the Chicago Tribune today!

By Lara Weber

CHIPATA, Zambia ­

"If you are a person who has felt discriminated against, cross the line."

"If you are a person who has ever made a racist remark, cross the line."

It was part of a training exercise at a "diversity" conference I helped organize last week in Lusaka, Zambia, for Peace Corps volunteers and staff from across Southern Africa.

I¹ve been a volunteer here for just over a year.

At the conference about 40 of us stood silently on the edge of a long line drawn in the grass. If you related to the statement being read, you literally crossed the line and in doing so exposed yourself to the judgement of your colleagues.

It wasn¹t an easy exercise, painful even for some who found themselves admitting to thoughts and behavior they felt ashamed of, or had never expressed publicly. "Whoa, did I really just confess to everyone that I question my belief in God?"

It was one of those touchy-feely kinds of conferences that some companies are getting into and that you might expect to find in Peace Corps.

It hasn¹t always been so.

As Peace Corps celebrates its 40th anniversary this month (MARCH), you might say it is crossing the line into a world with new challenges and new ideas about work, management and the meaning of "development." Volunteers from all walks of American life now fill the ranks at posts in 78 countries, including China, Russia and a number of former Eastern Bloc countries. American volunteers working hand-in-hand with Communist (or formerly Communist) countries? Unthinkable just 10

"If you are a person who believes Peace Corps volunteers are all idealistic 22-year-olds, cross the line."

Peace Corps was founded in 1961, with President John F. Kennedy¹s often-quoted challenge, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

The first volunteers were an adventurous lot, sent out to live in remote areas of Africa and Central America. They underwent a short stint of language, technical and cultural training in the U.S., and then they were pretty much on their own for two years. Support was minimal in the hosting countries, and many volunteers had little contact with other Americans until their return from service.

They certainly didn¹t receive "diversity" training in the 60s. Volunteers were mostly white recent college grads inspired by a desire to see the world and do some good along the way at a time when Vietnam, racial tensions and the Cold War dominated the social conscience at home.

But times have changed, and the nature of Peace Corps work has changed too. Projects that once focused on well-building and latrine-digging have expanded and are just as likely now to include small-business management, information technology and HIV/AIDS work. Lawyers, ad executives, accountants and insurance adjusters are as at home in today¹s Peace Corps as the civil engineers, teachers and health workers who epitomized the early volunteer groups.

Still, the essence of Peace Corps is found in that image you might have of the rag-tag volunteer living in a mud hut, eating exotic foods and bicycling for miles to reach the nearest town. For most of the volunteers here with me in Zambia, that is exactly how we live.

Out in the bush, certain things haven¹t changed a whole lot in the last 40 years. Babies are born, people die and families struggle to survive on the little they have. As volunteers, we assimilate as best we can, learning local languages, farming with our neighbors and drawing water from wells. It is a sometimes-slow process that can be frustrating, exhilarating, maddening and thoroughly rewarding all at once.

We do much of the same work volunteers have always done, but with new twists. AIDS is killing Africa now. Statistics tell part of that story, but I see the human side. Every week my work is disrupted by at least one funeral in the village. Some weeks there is a funeral nearly every day.

It hit me the hardest just before Christmas when a 30-year-old man from my village died after a mysterious illness. His funeral was huge and throughout the day people pointed to the man¹s young wife who was sick also. Within a week, she died too and everyone returned to the same house for her funeral. Was it AIDS? "Oh something like TB," is the response I usually get. That¹s the way people acknowledge an AIDS death here. And so it goes. Week after week.

"If you are a person who has put yourself at risk of HIV transmission, cross the line."

I focus much of my work on AIDS education partly because I am in a program called "Community Action for Health." But volunteers working in agro-forestry, fish-farming and small-business programs also incorporate AIDS education into their work. Never before in Peace Corps has a single disease taken on so much importance.

Following our diversity conference, Peace Corps Zambia hosted an HIV/AIDS conference, also for volunteers, staff and host-country nationals from the Southern Africa region.

Conferences, workshops, in-service trainings, quarterly reports and fancy handbooks. Peace Corps has spiffed up its rag-tag image in the last 40 years, and I¹m startled how often Peace Corps reminds me of a particular large media company in Chicago where I used to work. Have the ideals of corporate America become so dominant that they¹ve even been embraced by Peace Corps?

Maybe so.

In some countries, though not in Zambia, volunteers have cell phones with text-message capabilities. They produce web pages and teach computer skills to students. Technology is changing the Peace Corps experience, just as it is affecting the rest of the world. Those early volunteers who depended solely on unreliable postal systems must scoff at our easy access to email and international calls. I¹m sure we¹re not as tough as they were.

Yet despite all the differences ­ modern technology, increased support, the looming AIDS pandemic and a much more diverse pool of volunteers ­ the essence of the Peace Corps experience has barely changed in 40 years.

I wake up every morning in my mud hut to the sound of roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing me out of my dreams. I wrap a brightly patterned sarong around my waist and slip outside to light my charcoal stove. Within a few minutes, the little girl next door spots me and runs over, yelling "Mwauka uli!" the morning greeting for the Senga tribe. I share my breakfast with her and then she braids my hair.

Another day in the village begins.

"If you are a person who always wanted to join Peace Corps, cross the line."

Jan. 20th 2001

Letter from Lara


I'm in Chipata today with Julie, John, Celeste and Jamie. We're heading up to Chama tomorrow morning. All is going well, aside from the occasional little snafu, but you know how that goes.

Had a little minor scare with my liver and gall bladder the other day, but it's all OK now. NOTHING IS WRONG WITH ME!!! Here's the deal... our last morning in Vic Falls I developed a really bad sharp pain in my side, just behind the bottom of my rib cage, right where my liver and gall bladder are (though I didn't know that at the time). Hurt like hell whenever I breathed, laughed, coughed or sneezed. No fun. But not like I was going to die or anything, and the pain subsided by the next morning when we were back in Lusaka and ready to leave for Chipata. Nevertheless, I told Dr. Nobutu about it in case it was more serious. She got a bit worried and said I wasn't allowed to leave Lusaka until I had an ultrasound and blood/urine tests done. Well... that sort of screwed up our travel plans. Ended up I stayed in Lusaka for a few days while they all went on to the game park alone. Went fine. They are now seasoned Zambia travelers and had a fantastic time in South Luangwa. Meanwhile all my tests came back completely normal with nothing at all wrong. We're guessing it was some odd muscle strain that caused the pain. No other explanation, and the pain is gone now.

Add it to my list of strange maladies in Africa, I suppose. Anyway, we are Chama-bound tomorrow. Hopefully the roads will be OK.

We'll be passing back through Chipata next week sometime if you want to email. Not sure when I'll physically be here though.

All is great. It's so awesome to see these guys... hard to believe they're actually here with me in Zambia!!
Everyone says hi.

Oh, and no problems here related to the mess in Congo, in case anyone was worried.

I love you!


Jan. 6th 2001

Pictures from Africa
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Jan. 3rd 2001

Pictures from Africa
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Dec. 10th 2000

Letter from Lara


10 December 2000

Well, it occurs to me that I won't mail this letter until I get to Lusaka next week (for a speedier delivery to the U.S.) so I can write some more. There's another funeral today and it's church day so the village should be quiet most of the day. Big events since I finished the first part of this letter: 1, I had a big snake at my front door the other night, 2, I am now an experienced farmer and 3, people in my village have a really tough time grasping the concept of "Crazy Eights" (the card game).

1, The snake. I guess after nearly a year of no significant snake encounters I'd grown lax in my fear. In the evenings I putter around my house with the front door open, and I'm not afraid to walk to my latrine in the dark. Well, well, well. Friday night around 7pm I had a kettle of water boiling on the brazier just outside the front door while I cleaned house. The cats hang out on the front step so I usually know quickly if something like a giant scorpion is trotting into the house When I heard the water boil, I walked out without a candle or flashlight to take it off the heat. As I lifted the kettle up, I sensed something slithering past my hand and down the front steps. In the moonlight I could see this BIG FAT snake stop for a moment just in front of the steps! I ran inside to get a flashlight, yelling "Njoka!!!" (snake) at the same time so my neighbors would come save me! By the time they ran over and I was back outside, the thing was gone. We looked all around my house in case it was lurking in the shadows somewhere, but it probably slithered off into the fields or my garden. I didn't see it well, but I could see that it was about 2 1/2 feet long and thick. Yuk! If my water hadn't boiled when it did, I wonder if it would have come in for a personal visit? Next morning I got bit by a tsetse fly and worried for a while that I would die of sleeping sickness. (I won't, I'm fine) Ah, critters.

2, Farming. Yesterday I was in the field behind my house by 6:00A.M., digging ridges in the earth with a big ol' hoe. Man, that is hard work! As Irene instructed me on proper hoeing technique, we joked that I was in 1st grade farming. It took a while, but I finally caught on. With most of Irene's family helping, we prepared about 45 long ridges for my crops. I planted about five rows of popcorn and the rest soybeans. When I harvest the soybeans, around June, I'll be able to give cooking demonstrations to the women so they can make soy milk, soy powder (for nshima), soy sausage even! The popcorn, of course, is for my sanity.

3. Card Games I decided to teach Edwin (and everyone else) how to play some card games. I figured "Crazy Eights" is an easy one to start with. Well, never assume! When they play cards here, they only distinguish between red and black, not by suit. So everyone had to learn hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. That took forever. Then there's the concept of matching either suit or number. Well, that was another hour. Then there's the whole idea of "8" being a wild card. The idea wasn't sinking in until I started calling it a "special card". I think they finally caught on, but everyone agreed it was a very difficult game. OK- I guess I won't introduce rummy for a while.

Meanwhile they play checkers here like it's a speed contest and can anticipate moves faster than I can find my pieces on the board. Go figure.

In other news, I've been Ok lately with ODI and YEBO so I might keep them after all. As long as I don't hold them too much (or wash my hands when I do) I seem to do better. We'll see. I'll give them a flea bath today and that might help a little to.

Two request can you send me crossword puzzles from the Post? (the daily ones) And can you look on the internet for tips on growing Garlic? It's difficult to grow and it takes a long time, but I have a bunch planted in my garden and I want to do it right. Thank you!

OK, that's all for now. I'm going to seal this up so I can mail it when I get to Lusaka. Hopefully I will talk to you on the phone before then.

I love you!


Dec. 8th 2000

Letter from Lara

8 December 2000

Dear Mom and Dad,

Hello! I just got two aerograms in the mail from you and realized that while I've been writing lots of letters "home" lately, they haven't been to you. I've been trying to catch up with everyone who sent packages with you first.

It's a Friday afternoon and I'm sitting in my hammock writing as Irene's little girl Sebecca and her best friend Stella basically just hang around to be at my house. They bring me ripe mangoes to eat and then ask to color with crayons or read some of the books you brought. Those books are a HUGE hit, by the way! I let the kids read a few at a time as long as they stay on my porch and return them to me in good condition. They are so good though that I hardly have to worry.

It's hot today. Overall the rains have cooled things down considerably, but it still can get unbearably muggy in the few hours before a big thunderstorm rolls in.

I'm in a lazy state of bliss right now. Sebecca and Stella are combing and braiding my hair. Sebecca is in her usual ratty dirty dress, but sporting two new front teeth (ah, so grown up now!) and Stella is wearing a little black velvet fancy party dress with puffy sleeves and a white lace collar. She looks ready for a formal Christmas dance, except for the dirty bare feet and mango juice dripping down her chin.

Today all the adults are either in the boma selling maize in the market or at a funeral down the road for a little boy who died last night. There have been a lot of funerals lately.

It's sad, yes, but it's also frustrating because all work gets put on hold while people mourn. I don't mean to sound insensitive, but it gets difficult to imagine any progress when meeting and project work is constantly postponed by funerals. It's a tough reality. Sam and I were commenting yesterday on how much of our work had been put off this week by various funerals.

We were talking last night after we had a FANTASTIC dinner with Father Rodolfo and Brother Romano at the Catholic Church. Brother Romano is a 78 yr. old, semi-senile Italian who is also a great cook and a sweet funny old man. Last night he served us a feast of homemade pasta, garden spinach, fennel, chicken, salad and soup. For dessert he had baked a big mango pound cake and served it with homemade chocolate sauce drizzled on top. Sam and I bring whatever treats we have (coffee, Starbucks mints and Newsweek magazines) but we definitely get the better end of the deal!

Despite the challenges of simply living here in Chama, Sam and I decided we have it pretty good. We live with great people, work is going well and Chama is just remote enough that we don't have a lot of the greed problems so many other volunteers experience.

Right now am just lamenting the fact that next week Irene and Njovu and their family (most of them) will move out to their cottage for the rest of the rainy season. I'm going to miss Irene so much. She's become my best friend in the village for one, and she's also a tremendous help to me in just about everything I do here! On top of it al, her presence keeps Agogo at bay and I am not looking forward to the return of Agogo all day-all night. I'm hoping Agogo has learned to give me a little more space, but that's probably wishful thinking. (Editor's Note: Agogo is a next-door neighbor who is in her early sixties, very aggressive and will not stay out of your face. She will not take "no" for an answer and will hound you to death until she gets her way.)

It probably doesn't matter much anyway, though, since I will hardly be in Chama until February! Next week I leave for 10 days of Christmas travels to Lusaka and Vic Falls. Then most of January I will be with Julie, Jamie and Celeste. I hate to admit it because I don't want it to sound as if I don't like the village, but life here is a lot easier when I know that every few weeks I get to go at least to Lundazi, if not Malawi or Lusaka.

When I'm in my village I know exactly how many days until either I'm going somewhere or someone is coming to visit. I think it is the same for most volunteers. We also always know exactly how long we've been at site without seeing another volunteer. I guess it's all kind of a game we play to cope. Not that any of us is having a bad time, its just info we always know.

A few hours later> Well, the afternoon rains have arrived so I'm hunkered down inside my house enjoying the storm. I've left my bike outside so the rain will wash off some of the mud that gets caked all over it whenever I ride to the boma. The mud factor is a huge one now, and I suppose you could let it drive you crazy. I've decided to just surrender to it and accept the fact that if I go anywhere I will get muddy. I assume my clothes won't get truly clean until at least April. It's actually pretty fun bike riding through the mud - until you hit a particularly deep spot and you fall over. That's only happened to me a couple of times so far! At least I can get to and from Chama during the rains. To get to Sam's, you have to cross a stream that is typically waist-deep after a day of rain. There is no bridge. You just lift your bike up on your shoulder and trudge across. No telling what is rushing through that water too! Yuk! Me, I have it OK with just a lake in front of my house and only a couple small leaks in the roof. I'm getting two wheelbarrows full of bricks to build a path to my latrine. Generally though, I enjoy the rain because it sends everyone to his or her houses and gives me some privacy. Of course Sebecca and Stella are still here, eating mangoes on the porch and cracking themselves up. But they're just like part of the lawn furniture anymore, and their giggles keep me smiling.

Unfortunately my new kittens, Odi and Yebo, are not making me smile as much. They're still adorable, but it turns out I am horribly allergic to them. I felt allergic (sniffly, sneezy, etc.) the first week I had them, but that's also when my malaria started so I wasn't sure which part was allergy. Plus I thought maybe after a few weeks my body would adapt. No such luck. I'm in agony in my own house now and can't get to sleep without taking a Benadryl. Problem is they are too cute and I've grown too attached. But this is misery, so after Christmas- or after etal's visit- I'll get a neighbor family to adopt them. Of course then the mice will return, but at least I'll be able to breathe!

Oh, I got my new wardrobe hutch from the carpenter. It's huge and beautiful! I can't begin to describe how great it felt to finally unpack my clothes, after nearly a year of living out of a backpack. It's so nice to have shelves and a lockable cabinet and something that sort of resembles a closet! Next I'm ordering a kitchen counter/cabinet for the sitting room so that I can put everything else away and prepare food without squatting.

I'm also considering adding a room to my house and extending the porch around the back of the house. My current bedroom would become something like an office/work area and the new room would become the bedroom with a backdoor onto a back porch that would be a little more private.

I haven't mentioned this to anyone in my village yet, but I think I'll try to do it by next spring, if they can work during the rainy season. The structure is easy, but the roofing is tougher. It will probably cost about 40,000 kwacha (about $12 dollars U.S.). The wardrobe hutch was 105,000 kw.

Oh, hey, did I mention there is another PCV here from Topeka?? His name is Frank Lynn and he's around sixty years old and lives near Linda's site in Luapula. In Topeka he was a nurse (OR and then Psych) at the VA hospital. Now he's retired and doing the PC thing. I might get to meet him in Lusaka just before Christmas.

Well I know there are a million more things to tell you about, but I'll have to save them for the next letter, as this one is already long enough.

A few random things though. Can you send me one of those umbrellas that close-up really small? Plus just a couple of rolls of black and white 35mm film 400 ASA (or whatever you find). Oh, and my second Timex Ironman watch died the other day. Can you send me watch batteries? I'll mention the batteries to Julie and Celeste also. Right now I have no idea what time it is.

Oh, that marine adhesive Goop is awesome! I have more than enough, but just wanted to let you know how great it is.

Keep on writing those aerograms and sending packages. I had an awesome time during your visit. Maybe you'll get to come again in early 2002?

Say hello to everyone. I miss you!


Nov. 22nd 2000

Hello hello!!

I've tried calling a few times today, but I can't seem to get a line out of Chipata.

I trust you returned safely to the States after I talked to you in London and all is well.

Life is good here. Matt and I just got back a few days ago from vacation in Nyika Game Park in northern Malawi. It was Beautiful!!!!! Went horseback riding two days, camped, hiked. The weather was cool and the scenery was gorgeous.

For Xmas we're going to go to Vic Falls instead of Zanzibar. I didn't want to take too much vacation time over xmas since Julie, Celeste and Jamie will be here in January and we decided that to make Zanzibar worthwhile we'd need to have more time. (getting there takes at least three days!) So I was all for a chance to go rafting again!!! I'm going to use my xmas money that way instead. And then I'll still be happy to go again when the crew gets here. You know, all a part of my plan to become a river rafting guide / Outside Magazine writer when I get back home!

Any plans for Thanksgiving? We're going to cook a guinea fowl at my site with all the trimmings! yum yum.

Hey, here's some news for you. I had malaria!!! Yes, now pleassssssse don't be alarmed!! I've been in constant contact with Gilly and Nobutu in Lusaka. I took my fansidar and am now fully recovered. I didn't have a bad case, but it still wasn't much fun. Had it just before going to Malawi so we had to delay our travel plans a little and take it a bit easier once we were there. At the malaria peak I had a fever of 102 and some funky dreams. Bad headaches, bodyaches, the works. Now I am fine. They say it was probably a case of "break-through" malaria since I've been good about taking my mefloquine. If I have another bout of it then I might have to consider a different anti-malarial but we'll deal with that if the situation arises. In any case, I am FINE NOW!!!!!!! (though I am casting an evil eye at every mosquito I see!)

Tell Maj I got the note from Courtney, the new Zambia volunteer coming here next January. I wrote her back a long email I hope she has received.

All is well. I'm going back up to Lundazi today (Sunday), then to Chama tomorrow. I'll be back through Chipata around December 17th on my way to Vic Falls and I'll try to call you then so we can talk over the Christmas holiday.

Have a great Thanksgiving! Eat lots of turkey for me and say hi to everyone!

I love you!

Oct. 30th 2000
This is a letter from my parents (Major and Rose) to all Peace Corps Families

To All PC Families,

We just returned from Africa. We visited our daughter, Lara, also known as Rala, in the Eastern Province. Her village is close to Chama, which is more than 300km (200mi) north of Chipata. Lundazi is about halfway, and is at the end of any paved road. The worst paved/potholed road in your community is better than the best paved roads in Zambia outside of large cities. Sam Rikkers is the only other volunteer in Lara's area (about 30km away) and the next closest volunteers are toward Lundazi, 80km south. This recap will deal with logistics and general statistics that we had to cope with or experienced. Rose and I were there from 1-15 Oct. It was the dry season and very hot being 11 degrees south of the Equator. It did not rain while we were there, but we did see one small cloud. The hottest day was 105.6 F cooling down to about 92 F at night. Most days were about 96 F. There was a lot of dust. There were no visible mosquitoes, but when we tried to sleep outside the netting at night you would wake up with one of the little buggers trying to take a blood sample near your ear. You were inside the netting for the rest of the night. City motel/hotels were clean, but bed covers had been used by Dr. Livingstone (I presume). It cost $13/night for two in Chipata. Except in true tourist areas and Lusaka, the best facilities were comparable to a one or two star hotel in the U.S. We stayed in Hotel Inter-Continental in Lusaka, considered the best, $92/night for three, and it was close to a four star with an excellent diner restaurant on the top floor overlooking the city. We stayed at the Waterfront Lodge in Livingstone for $150/night for three. The Wildlife Camp Lodge at the South Luangwa National Park was about $60/night for three plus game drives, meals, bar for additional $240. The Lundazi Castle (a true castle built by a German after WWII) was $13/night for the VIP suite. While all this sounds very inexpensive by U.S. standards, you always paid in Zambian Kwatchas. $10,000 Kwatchas were about $3.50 U.S. It was easy to lose perspective of this and think you were paying a lot of money, and who wouldn't be shocked at a $100,000k hotel bill? According to some sources, Zambia is the 3rd poorest country in the world (there's got to be allot of countries tied for 1st and 2nd). In the entire country we never felt threatened or unsafe. For a country with so little, it is amazing how friendly, smiling and good humored the people were. Outside of the cities, everyone lives day to day at the subsistence level. It is not poverty, because virtually everyone has reasonable shelter, food, water, security and some access to medical services for serious conditions. They don't have electricity or running water or sewage treatment facilities, but except for the kids covered in dust and sometimes raggedy clothes, they are clean and fairly neat. They have virtually no modern gadgets that we use. No one owned a camera in Lara's or Sam's villages and no one had a car or truck in the villages. The people are not lazy, everyone is up and busy at 0600 in the morning, walking to their job, or field or school. They are friendly, laugh and do not complain about their life, condition or the government. We always felt safe. The biggest hassle is the absence of quality transportation choices. If you got a taxis, you needed to make sure they had enough gasoline to get were you wanted to go otherwise you made a side trip to get 1 or 2 liters of gas. We headed off in a car to the game park which was 130km from Chipata and the driver spent 30 minutes rounding up gas for the trip. We ended up having two flat tires along the way and there was no spare that was usable. It really didn't matter because he didn't have a tire lug nut wrench or any other tools! We finally got a different ride 40km from our destination and our abandoned taxis went on down the road on the wheel rim. No one ever showed any disgust, frustration or anger over problems like this that occurred on a regular basis. It was all part of the adventure.

In summary we had an eventful, informative and fulfilling experience while visiting Lara and Zambia.

We traveled to Lara's village (a scattering of huts and small structures) and spent 4 days and 3 nights in her hut. We met dozens of her neighbors, village leaders and the district Chief.

We went to two different game parks; South Luangwa and a smaller one near Victoria Falls. We saw lions with their cubs, leopards with cubs, elephants of all sizes, hippos, zebras, giraffes, crocodiles, many type of antelope, warthogs, buffalo eagles and lots more. We even saw elephants crossing the Zambezi river and they went underwater.

We visited the Peace Corps House in Chipata and met many other PCVs to include Emily and Scott who are assigned to villages in the Chipata region. While in Lusaka we went to the PC Compound and met with Brian (last name escapes me), the Peace Corps Director for Zambia and other staffers for medical programs, Aids and Administration.

We traveled to Livingstone and saw Victoria Falls. Went whitewater rafting on the Zambezi(below the falls and damned near drowned -at least I had never been underwater that long before without dive gear). We had great pizza and real diet Cokes, in the can, in Livingstone. We also watched bungee jumpers leap off the bridge near the falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Besides bottled water, the three sodas available just about anywhere are Sprite, orange Fanta and hard Coke. Once in awhile you find diet Pepsi and diet Coke. Castle, Mosi, and Carlsberg beers are available in bottles.

Travel to, from, and in Zambia included trains, planes and automobiles. More observations and insights to follow, but one thing is for sure, our kids are making a difference and are enduring without a lot of necessities we take for granted. They deserve our admiration AND sympathy.

Rose and Major Weber

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By Zeenat ( on Saturday, December 20, 2003 - 2:13 pm: Edit Post

hi Lara,
i dont think you know me, my name is zeenat and im from lundazi. i wondered if you could help me track down a Stephani, she used to be from one of the villages around lundazi about 4 years ago. Also a volunteer from the us. I hope you can. my email addy is
take care!

By Solo Lin ( - on Thursday, March 31, 2005 - 4:59 am: Edit Post

Hi, Lara! My name is Solo Lin. I work as a coordinator at the Self Help office at the embassy in Lusaka. I am planning on taking a trip to Eatern Province from April 11 to 14, to check on prospective projects. Would you like to join me? If so, please let me know as soon as possible so we can make arrangements to meet. I will be spending the nights of 11 and 13 at Pine View in Chipata, and Castle in Lundazi on the 12th. Thanks. Solo

By Major Weber ( - on Saturday, May 07, 2005 - 10:20 pm: Edit Post

This is Major Weber, Lara's brother who put her website together for her and maintained the updates. You can still check the original (and much more complete) website at
Lara is back in the US now, but is still involved with the Peace Corps.
Thank you so much for everyone's continued support!

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